Friday, December 23, 2022

Steve Cohen Keeps Daring Us to Dream Bigger

You think I'm done?
Hand me my checkbook
Steve Cohen is giving Mets fans a lesson in what is truly possible with the right owner.

I wrote a piece earlier this week that I liked a lot. I thought I did a good job capturing the euphoria of a lifelong Mets fan (me) responding to Steve Cohen's relentless drive to field a great team. And this was based on all of the signings and what, at the time, was an unsuccessful pursuit of Carlos Correa. As I was finishing up the piece, I saw the information come across that the San Francisco Giants had postponed their press conference to welcome their new star. For a moment, I let myself consider the possibility of Correa becoming available again for Steve Cohen to sign, and then chuckled. This offseason has been a fine antidote to all of us who long suffered under the Wilpons' stewardship of the club, but there had to be a limit — didn't there?

I was walking my two dogs that afternoon after publishing the piece. As always, I had a lot of time to think during that exercise. While, at times, I can inspire my pooches into periods of fast-paced hiking, there are other times when the need to stop and explore the scent of every other rock and fallen leaf will drag our pace down to a virtual crawl. I implore my dog Nutmeg, a Treeing Walker Coonhound mix, to pick up the pace. She just gives me a look with those profoundly sorrowful hound dog eyes, full of pity for me — a creature incapable of comprehending the fascinating world of scents under my feet waiting to be explored — and continues to do pretty much exactly what she wants. And I retreat into my thoughts until she is ready to walk at a faster pace again.

That Tuesday afternoon, I found myself dreaming again about how sweet it would be for the Mets to add Carlos Correa to an already colossal payroll, then chortled at my unbridled avarice. Steve Cohen's aggressiveness is spoiling Mets fans like me, who spent years watching all of the big moves take place outside of Flushing, Queens.

The press conferences to introduce newly added Mets to the fanbase had been coming so fast and furious this winter that I actually got bored with them. Not that this isn't always the case. You can essentially predict what people will say and the questions they will be asked in advance after you've watched a few of them. The Mets generally sign so few big-name players that there isn't a chance to be bored with them. But this year is different. Press conference overload is a real problem. God bless Billy Eppler for continuing to appear excited about the latest signings when he's probably just wishing he could get back to the day's Wordle.

So anyway, while Nutmeg was exploring the world of olfactory wonder, I thought about the Mets teams of my youth. With a few notable exceptions, they were unremarkable. Good years featured numbing mediocrity, while in bad years, the club was barely watchable when Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, or Jon Matlack were pitching. All too often, the Mets' pathetic offense offered them no support. During those years, I first became a huge fan of Strat-O-Matic baseball — still, by far, the best choice for nerdy baseball fans who are convinced they could do a better job managing their favorite ball club. I spent many hours playing the game, usually by myself. I know, pathetic. It's still amazing to me that I ever lost my virginity.

A big problem for young me was that the Mets were so bad that managing them was dull. So I came up with the solution of "enhancing" my Mets ballclubs. At first, this involved a sprinkling of my favorite non-Mets superstars on the roster. Eventually, it became a wholesale replacement of every .200-hitting position player and relievers who couldn't get anyone out. By the late 70s, with Seaver, Koosman, and Matlack long gone, my final roster contained few actual New York Mets. The teams I created were virtual juggernauts in my own personal baseball league play. But I always knew what I was doing was merely an exercise in wishful thinking.

I haven't thought much about those endless S-O-M games in a long time. But when I awoke Wednesday morning to the news of Correa signing with the Mets, it occurred to me that Steve Cohen was doing in real life what I had done back then  — creating a tangible version of my decades-old fantasy. Rooting for the Mets for most of my life meant understanding that you had to settle for what was left over after the big spenders were done picking through the best free agents. Man, it's a whole new world these days.

Of course, the backlash has already started. What Steve Cohen is doing is "bad for baseball," with a luxury tax bill higher than the payrolls of 10 MLB clubs. The Mets didn't "need" Carlos Correa. The Mets will undoubtedly be up there with the Yankees as the most hated teams in baseball, as other team's fanbases look upon enviously what Steve Cohen has wrought in New York. And, finally, rest assured there will be "consequences" for this spending spree from the rest of the overprivileged boys club that runs MLB.

Taking these items one by one, I don't believe Steve Cohen's ultimate goal is to run a year-by-year payroll consistently above other clubs by such a wide margin. But this year's spending has earned MLB a tremendous amount of publicity, particularly since baseball has earned a reputation as by far the most boring of major American sports. Usually, the sports world outside of the MLB team's most fervent supporters mostly ignores baseball's slow-moving hot stove season. Not this year.

For decades, the National League team in New York has been notoriously one of the worst-run teams in professional sports. Like it or not, folks from outside of this region, the New York market is the largest and most important in the United States and the world. Having such a perennial bumbling club in Queens did not work in favor of baseball's popularity. And for clubs with a payroll below the luxury tax check that Steve Cohen will be writing, shouldn't we be saying, "bad on them?" They're a substantial part of the problem of why baseball has lost so much popularity.

As for the Mets not needing Carlos Correa, that is undoubtedly true. Having two great shortstops on the roster is indeed overkill. But I didn't hear much complaining about the Padres signing Xander Bogaerts, despite already having Ha-Seong Kim and Fernando Tatis Jr. on the roster. Why is that?

Nothing bothers me less than the thought of other fan bases hating Mets fans. Having occupied a public spot as a Mets fan since my original blogging days, I soon understood that other fan bases already hate Mets fans. Even when things were at their worst for the club, there were internet memes of LOL Mets and laughing at images of the sad Mets fan. (No, I won't link to any of them.) For decades, outsiders loved to look down on Mets fans and laugh at them while they hated us. I vastly prefer being envied and hated. Oh, and if one of those folks is reading this now who is mad at Steve Cohen's Mets, may I offer up a good old-fashioned, hearty New York f*** you? LOL on that.

Finally, the idea that there will be consequences for the Mets from other MLB owners. To that crew, I can only offer up an even bigger f*** you. These are the folks who, for many years, propped up the Wilpons as owners of the Mets when they should have been out soon after the whole Madoff mess broke. Fred and Jeff were insiders and chums of the rest of the crew. The other owners knew that the Mets were never going to flex their financial muscles, even before those Madoff dollars evaporated away. They laughed at the Mets' infamous mismanagement and organizational buffoonery, giving no thought whatsoever to the fanbase.

The irony of this was that by the time the Wilpons were forced to sell, the world was heading into an unprecedented pandemic. A decade earlier, MLB owners could have rejected a Steve Cohen, knowing full well there were many other parties capable of purchasing the New York Mets. But Fred Wilpon's buddy Bud Selig and the rest floated the Wilpons for another decade — to the detriment of the franchise and its fans. Ultimately they shot themselves in the foot because, in 2020, Cohen was the only truly viable candidate to purchase the team.

Even so, Mets fans — whether they want to believe this or not — are forever indebted to Sandy Alderson for being the face of Cohen's bid to buy the club. The rest of the owners ultimately would not have approved Steve Cohen if not for Alderson's reassuring presence as team president. So, anyway, screw their consequences. Consider Cohen's spending payback for the extra decade of Wilpon cheapness and buffoonery. Ain't it glorious?

*************************

I've been working on this post since Wednesday morning. That's simply the reality of my uber-busy life right now. I had already conceived of including my old Strat-O-Matic super clubs in the piece when I received an email from Jerry Milani with this release from the company:

Correa Signing Vaults Mets to 106 Wins In Strat-O-Matic Simulation

With the reported signing of Carlos Correa overnight, the Mets have added another big-name piece to try to improve on their 101-win season.

Just how many more games will these off-season moves mean? Strat-O-Matic, the leader in sports simulations, ran the 2023 season with current projected rosters this morning, and found the Mets gaining five wins to 106, the most in baseball. The simulation has them winning the East division by 14 games over Philadelphia (92-70) and 19 over Atlanta (87-75).

The total would be the second most wins in franchise history after the 108 victories by the 1986 club. 

This was fun to read, and of course, I only hope it plays out that way. Receiving this release when I was already fondly reminiscing about S-O-M just made my day. You can check out Strat-O-Matic's current lineup on their website. I remain a big fan of their baseball game which is still a joy for baseball nerds — and no, nobody gave me a nickel to say that.

Please be well and take care. Let's go Mets! I can't wait for baseball season. Thanks, Steve.


While Twitter still bravely clings to life, follow me @MikeSteffanos.

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